Buy in bulk
This might seem like a daft suggestion that we can reduce waste by buying more of an item but it’s true. When you look at the packaging involved, buying in bulk usually means less packaging per gram, portion etc. This is not an absolute rule! This doesn’t count for perishable foods that you won’t use up in time or bulk items that are actually multiple smaller items wrapped together. But when you think about pasta bought in a 1kg bag instead of a 500g bag or cereal bought in a family sized box instead of a small or even individual sized box or a large pot of yoghurt versus individual yoghurts the difference is clear.
I appreciate that this isn’t always possible and in the case of some items, like cucumber, the packaging exists to make the food last longer but buying loose is a great option if you find you don’t get through a whole box of mushrooms before they go off or if you are committed to reducing your plastic. Part of the rise in plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables has come from our desire to have the choice of regular, wonky, premium and organic etc, having multiple options means that stores need a way to tell these varieties apart. Some supermarkets stock a broader range of items available to buy loose and it may mean changing where you shop in terms of either branch or brand. A few things that make life easier when buying loose are to bring reusable vegetable bags with you that can be used, washed and reused repeatedly. Another option is to put a basket in the front of your trolley or on the child seat that you can put your loose fruit and veg in, this will keep it together and stop it from getting bruised or damaged. When you get to the till it does help the staff if you group your loose items if you aren’t using your own bags.
Take your own tubs
Another similar way to save on plastic is to take your own tubs when you go shopping and buying your meat and deli items from the counter. Most supermarkets will happily fill your tubs as long as they are clean and dry and you don’t mix contents e.g. a chicken breast and 2 sausages in 1 tub. This does mean you need to shop while the counters are open which isn’t all the time in some supermarkets. Meat can then be put straight into the fridge and used as usual but make sure you clean your tubs well before your next visit.
Pass on pop
In the UK we buy, and waste, a remarkable amount of fizzy drinks, a lot of these are bought in individual or on-the-go drinks bottles. A really easy way to cut down on plastic is to stop buying bottled drinks altogether or just skipping on-the-go drinks. You could replace your daily fizzy drink with a refillable bottle of water, make your own fizzy drinks at home in reusable bottles or get yourself a fizzy drinks bottle. Fizzy drinks bottles are reusable bottles that keep your drink fizzy, and often chilled too, so you can buy large bottles and just decant what you need to carry for lunch etc.
Ditch the clingfilm
When I first started thinking about this, I thought that getting rid of clingfilm altogether would be nearly impossible but I was really surprised at how easy it was. For some items like bread, cheese and cake I have switched to using beeswax wraps, they work really well, are easy to clean and keep food really fresh, to cover bowls, tubs and the cut ends of things like butter nut squash I use silicone bowl covers which are great, stretchy and wash easily and for bigger items like meat and fish I just use reusable tubs with lids that can be washed and reused over and over. Although this might mean buying a few new plastic items to begin with it has meant that the clingfilm is now at the back of a cupboard and hasn’t been touched in months.
Shop small / local
OK so I admit this is point number 6 in a 5-point list but I wanted to mention it because a great way to achieve at least the first 3 points is by shopping small and local. If you have access to a butcher, baker, greengrocer, fishmonger, cheese maker, farm shop or pay by weight store these are often very receptive to you bringing your own container, you can buy the exact quantity that you want at very competitive prices and you are supporting a local trader. It isn’t always possible but it is worth having a stroll down your local high street or market to see what is available locally. These are all also usually great places to get locally produced, in-season foods too. Given that on average fresh produce travels around 1,500 miles (over 2,400 km) to get to your plate shopping locally will also make a massive reduction to your carbon footprint. Eating locally produced food once a week could save over 2 tonnes of CO2 a year per person.